Royal Society Publishing

Unusual anal fin in a Devonian jawless vertebrate reveals complex origins of paired appendages

Robert S. Sansom, Sarah E. Gabbott, M. A. Purnell


Jawed vertebrates (gnathostomes) have undergone radical anatomical and developmental changes in comparison with their jawless cousins (cyclostomes). Key among these is paired appendages (fins, legs and wings), which first evolved at some point on the gnathostome stem. The anatomy of fossil stem gnathostomes is, therefore, fundamental to our understanding of the nature and timing of the origin of this complex innovation. Here, we show that Euphanerops, a fossil jawless fish from the Devonian, possessed paired anal-fin radials, but no pectoral or pelvic fins. This unique condition occurs at an early stage on the stem-gnathostome lineage. This condition, and comparison with the varied condition of paired fins in other ostracoderms, indicates that there was a large amount of developmental plasticity during this episode—rather than a gradual evolution of this complex feature. Apparently, a number of different clades were exploring morphospace or undergoing multiple losses.

  • Received January 2, 2013.
  • Accepted March 13, 2013.
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